As I have already written, there are notable similarities between China and Russia. If previously Latvian media was dominated by Russian propaganda and China seemed somewhere far away from all of it, then now it seems that China has decided to inject its own propaganda in the Latvian media environment. To what ends – it’s too early to tell, but the first signs are already present.
China has chosen the website nra.lv to be its propaganda mouthpiece. Why do I say this? In a relatively short amount of time, this website has published two interviews with Chinese Ambassador to Latvia Liang Jianquan: the first one on 10 February and the second on 9 June. This may seem like nothing extraordinary because ambassadors are supposed to talk to media. That is true, but let’s begin with the fact that both interviews were done by Juris Paiders. The first interview was headlined “Hardships reveal true friendship”, while the title of the second interview was “Hong Kong is China’s internal issue”.
Let us look at the content of these interviews, because they often feature statements by the ambassador regarding intergovernmental cooperation.
The interview “Hardships reveal true friendship”1 is about China’s success in combating Covid-19 (let’s not talk about how the international community doesn’t exactly agree with this and rightfully believes that China, at the least, kept silent about the outbreak of the virus and did not disclose the actual data on the number of infected and its death toll).
The article is dominated by the narrative that nothing extraordinary really happened, that there is a lot of unnecessary commotion and that in the rare case something is indeed wrong the Chinese government is always acting with the best intentions. Oh, right – and that there is no pandemic. It’s not a pandemic but a local epidemic. These were the statements of the Chinese ambassador in February. We all know how the situation unfolded. It has now been reported that the coronavirus possibly began spreading in China already in August last year, as suggested by a research done by the Harvard Medical School.2
Now, let’s look at the second interview “Hong Kong is China’s internal issue”.3
The interview begins with statements about how effective the Chinese government was in tackling Covid-19. However, when the ambassador was asked when the travel restrictions would be eased, he did not give an answer. Interesting – if everything is fine regarding the virus, why couldn’t the ambassador give at least an approximate date when the travel restrictions would be lifted? Let’s continue.
The interview continues with discussions about the statements by Secretary General of the Communist Party of China and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping regarding the plans of revitalizing the economy, as well as Chinese international cooperation. But all of this was discussed in rather general terms. When I read the interview, only one question came to mind – why the heck are we being told what the leader of the Chinese Communist Party thinks? I will add that his status was heavily emphasized.
Then followed several paragraphs advertising the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative”. You may not know this, but the global project does not concern Latvia in any way.
The interview inevitably touched upon China-US relations, and the Chinese position is clearly exemplified by the words of its ambassador: “These dangerous actions take us back in history and not only will they bury the fruits of cooperation accumulated by both nations over the course of many years, but also destroy the prospects of development for the US and threaten global stability and welfare.”
Of course, no interview with Chinese officials is complete without discussing the Hong Kong issue. You can read what exactly was said on the topic, but I will give you a brief summary: don’t stick your noses in the Hong Kong issue, we will deal with it ourselves. We can partly agree with this – Hong Kong is China’s internal issue, but the methods China employs to solve its issues are, mildly speaking, unacceptable in the rest of the world. Well, that’s not entirely true – they would most likely be welcomed in Russia and North Korea.
Taiwan was also discussed during the interview, and the ambassador’s reply made it seem like it is only a matter of time when China will take over Taiwan. The reply was as follows: “We are strongly against any incitement and support of “Taiwan’s independence” separatists. “Taiwan’s independence” has no future. The joining of both sides of the Strait of Taiwan is a historical tendency that cannot by stopped by anyone or anything.”
It should be noted that neither of these interviews mentioned a word about the previous cooperation between Latvia and China, its future prospects or anything related to it. It felt like the questions were sent to Paiders by the Chinese Embassy along with the answers. It’s hard to call any of this an interview – unless we call it a distinctly communistic one.
Aside from appearing on nra.lv, China was also able to express its opinion on the website delfi.lv which published an interview – prompted by the Chinese Embassy – on 21 April. The interview was titled “In the assessment of the Chinese ambassador, Latvia is handling the epidemic better than other European countries”.4 What was this interview about? Did it really discuss the success of Latvia?!
The interview began with nothing new – how China successfully battled the infection and provided assistance to other countries, including by delivering protective equipment. The interview forgot to mention that Latvia, along with other nations, found that the delivered masks did not meet the quality requirements. Next, the Chinese regime and party system was praised, while any statements about covering up information were authoritatively denied. The interviewer asked the question “What can people in Latvia learn form China’s experience in combating the epidemic?” But the reply was nothing more than general knowledge facts. This interview too was focused more on portraying the position of China in a positive light.
What can we conclude from all this? China has now decided to switch to active measures in order to shape a positive opinion about itself in Latvian media. On one hand, this is nothing to be condemned, but on the other – why such a change of approach? If it wasn’t necessary before, what has changed now? It’s not that Latvia has suddenly become an important and influential player on the global stage whose benevolence China must now gain. Let’s not be naïve. The second and more believable reason is that in its long-term plans China intends to do something in Latvia and is now preparing the soil for it. Will this benefit Latvia? I doubt it, considering the experience of other countries when cooperating with China.
I truly hope that our security services have noticed China’s activities.